Talking Tactics

Promoted clubs: How McKenna has transformed Ipswich

By Adrian Clarke 9 Jun 2024

Adrian Clarke analyses how the Tractor Boys will adapt ahead of their first top-flight season in 22 years

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Adrian Clarke analyses the tactical approaches of the three promoted clubs and how they will fare in the Premier League this season.

Club analysis - Ipswich Town

Kieran McKenna is a keen advocate of the Premier League’s most-used 4-2-3-1 formation, deploying it in all 46 league matches last season.

Ipswich use a double-pivot central midfield with a No 10 floating around in front.

Left-back Leif Davis pushes further forward than his counterpart on the other flank, which in turn allows Ipswich’s left-sided attacking midfielder the opportunity to slide infield to support the main striker.

So, in possession as they build through the thirds, their fluid system can look more like a 3-4-1-2.

Attacking intent

Back-to-back promotions were earned playing an exciting brand of daring, attack-minded football.

Ipswich scored in 40 of their 46 matches and ended as the Championship’s top scorers with 92 goals.

Leading attackers Conor Chaplin and Nathan Broadhead both netted 13 goals, but the team as a whole contributed.

Indeed, 19 different players scored, and 17 of those registered at least two goals.

Tactically, Ipswich are very positive under McKenna’s leadership.

They will push plenty of bodies into the final third and look to create multiple chances, even if that means leaving themselves light on numbers at the back.

However, this approach may have to be tempered a little against Premier League opponents.

High press

Ipswich are an excellent pressing side who work incredibly hard to produce turnovers inside the opposition half.

Statistically they were the second-best side in the Championship at winning the ball high and creating attempts at goal from those situations.

Most high turnovers in Championship 23/24
Club High turnovers Club Shots from high turnovers
Leeds 386 Southampton 82
Ipswich 382 Ipswich 77
Blackburn 378 Leeds 69

Their aggressive counter-pressing is sure to cause opponents problems this season.

Slow starts, strong finishes

One of Ipswich’s big weaknesses in 2023/24 was making a sluggish start to matches.

Remarkably, bottom side Rotherham United were the only team to concede more goals in the opening 15 minutes than Ipswich's total of 14. McKenna's men must avoid having to chase so many matches at the highest level.

Ipswich lost only four times after initially trailing 1-0, which highlights how great their powers of recovery were.

Overall, their record from a goal down read; won seven, drawn seven and lost four, meaning they picked up 28 points from 1-0 down, and 32 points overall from losing positions.

Ipswich relentlessly pursued goals late on and deep into stoppage time, and boasted the best record of goals scored after 75 minutes.

Their habit of scoring crucial late goals was a big factor in their successful bid for automatic promotion.

Most goals after 75 mins Championship 23/24
Club Goals 75+ mins Goal difference final 15 mins
Ipswich 26 +14
Leicester 23 +8
Southampton 22 +8
Middlesbrough 18 +9
Coventry 18 +3
Brilliant changes

McKenna’s growing reputation as one of English football’s best young coaches was reinforced by his in-game management.

He re-energised his team on numerous occasions by making telling second-half changes, which were often timed to perfection.

McKenna will often make double or triple substitutions, usually for players in his front four, and they regularly delivered game-changing contributions from the bench.

An enormous 31 direct goal contributions came from McKenna’s "finishers".

Most Championship goals and assists by subs 23/24
Club Subs. goals Subs. assists Combined
Ipswich 23 8 31
Southampton 20 8 28
Watford 15 8 23
Leicester 13 9 22
Middlesbrough 11 7 18
Swansea 12 6 18
Defending must improve

Expect McKenna to invest in pacy defensive players with Premier League experience this summer.

Their rearguard is full of character and resilience, but a lack of pace at the back could prove costly when Ipswich make the step up to top-flight football.

In the Championship they conceded two or more goals in 39 per cent of their matches, conceding 57 goals in total, the seventh-best record in the Championship.

They will need to protect this vulnerability much better in 2024/25.

Set-piece prowess

Corners and free-kicks will also be important to Ipswich.

They scored 19 goals from set-pieces in 2023/24, which was second only to Cardiff City.

Set-play specialist Davis has an outstanding left foot, supplying a stream of crosses that are whipped into the box for team-mates to attack.

At the other end, McKenna and his staff also work hard on organising the way they defend dead-ball situations, conceding the second fewest set-piece goals, with nine.

If they maintain high standards from dead-balls at both ends of the pitch, it could help Ipswich pick up crucial points in 2024/25.

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